Progressive Democrats

From Academic Kids

Template:Infobox Irish Political Party The Progressive Democrats (in Irish An Páirtí Daonlathach, literal back-translation: The Democratic Party) is a free market liberal party in the Republic of Ireland founded in 1985. It is a member of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR), which is a constituent part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).



The Progressive Democrats’ economic policies are based on liberal economics. They support a free enterprise, low tax and pro-competition policy base. The Progressive Democrats are sometimes viewed as the only Irish political party that is open to the idea of privatisation.

The Progressive Democrats consider privatisation on a case by case basis. They pushed for the privatisation of Aer Lingus because they believed that the company had no future if it didn’t have access to private capital. On the other hand, they strongly opposed their coalition partner’s plans to privatise Aer Rianta, arguing that the only thing worse than a public monopoly is a private monopoly. They suceeded in preventing the company from being privatised, and broke it up into competing companies instead. They currently plan to privatise Ireland’s prison system because they claim that it isn’t delivering value for money at present. There appears to be evidence that this assertion is right. Despite having the highest ratio of prison wardens to prisoners in the world (at almost one to one), the overtime budget is huge. This is a legacy of the political conflict in the northeast of Ireland, when prison warders were granted generous work conditions to counteract intimidation from subversive organisations.

Regarding social welfare provision, they believe in selective rather than universal benefits, working under the ideal “help only the people who cannot help themselves”. They do not agree that people who are well off should receive state benefits, arguing that they are being paid for by the taxes of people who are poorer than them.

The party has been a strong supporter of low taxation. They support low income tax because they believe it rewards and encourages work . They support low corporation tax because they believe it encourages business growth and allows for enterprise to be rewarded. The party believes that these policies were a critical part of the "Celtic Tiger" economy.

This is a view that is supported by leading academics. One of Ireland's most distinguished economists, Professor Dermot McAleese, says that the emergence of the Progressive Democrats in 1985 may have had a more positive influence on the economy than some recognise. He argues the low-tax, pro-business economy we know today is based in large part on Progressive Democrat policies. "They proved that there was a constituency for this, and they gave the intellectual power to it." (The Irish Times, 31 December 2004).

The party is often described as right wing by supporters and critics alike, but they have several policies which are closer to the left wing:

  • They have been strong supporters of overseas development aid. Liz O’Donnell, the Progressive Democrat minister with reponsibility for overseas development aid, threathened to resign if aid wasn’t increased. As a result, it was doubled.
  • They support the social partnership agreements on taxation, wages and conditions negotiated between unions, government and employers.
  • Their election programmes have included the intention to significantly increase welfare spending in key areas, including children's allowance, unemployment benefit and old age pensions[1] (
  • They support free university education.

Currently PD ministers control both the Department of Health and the Department of Justice, and are pursuing the following initiatives:

  • Expanding healthcare coverage
  • Reforming the health service
  • Reform of the private security industry (regulating it for the first time)
  • Expanding police powers
  • Creation of a Police Ombudsman
  • Personal Injury Reform

Party leaders reject the idea that they are ruled by ideology alone. Michael McDowell has said that he sees Liberalism as not being on the left-right spectrum as it is a mix of the ideals of both. Mary Harney, on becoming health minister said "I don't get my politics from any ideology, I get it from my experience and common sense".


The party was founded in 1985 by Desmond O'Malley, a former senior minister in Fianna Fáil governments under Jack Lynch and Charles J. Haughey.

O'Malley was a strong opponent of Haughey and was involved in a number of leadership heaves against the controversial and popular Haughey. He was finally expelled from Fianna Fáil for conduct unbecoming a member when he refused to support Fianna Fáil's opposition to the introduction of contraception.

O'Malley joined with Fianna Fáil members Mary Harney, Bobby Molloy and Pearse Wyse, Fine Gael TD Michael Keating and former Fine Gael activist Michael McDowell, to set up the new party. The breakaways were dissatisfied with the policies of existing parties, which they viewed as being insufficiently liberal (both economically and on social issues such as divorce and contraception).

In the 1987 general election the new party won 14 seats and 11.9% of the vote, becoming the third largest party in the Dáil.

In 1989 they formed a coalition government with Fianna Fáil, with Charles Haughey as Taoiseach. Haughey was replaced in February 1992 by Albert Reynolds.

After the collapse of Reynolds' first administration later in 1992, O'Malley retired from the leadership of the party. Mary Harney became the new leader and the first woman to lead any of the major Irish political parties. Harney currently serves as Tánaiste (deputy prime minister).

In total the Progressive Democrats have participated in coalition governments three times, all with Fianna Fáil (1989-1992; 1997-2002; 2002 to date). Mary Harney has said it makes "no difference" if they are in government with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael as long as they can get policy implemented, "[they] do not want to be in government for the sake of it".

In the 2002 general election, the party defied expectations by doubling its Dáil seats to eight, although its share of the vote declined slightly to 4%. It is believed that they attracted the votes of many Fine Gael voters who were afraid of a Fianna Fail majority and believed that Fine Gael's economic policy in the election was reckless.

Both Progressive Democrats and other commentators have suggested that the party has had a greater influence on government policy since 1997 than might be expected from its size. This belief appears to have some basis – as of September 2004, the party controlled two of the most important cabinet positions (Justice and Health) despite having less than one-tenth of the seats of its coalition partner Fianna Fáil.

In a widely reported speech [2] ( in 2000, the current party leader, Mary Harney, expressed the desire that Ireland become "closer to Boston than Berlin", adopting US free market models for economic development, health, education, and other services rather than European social democratic models because she believed that the social democratic countries, while having more equality had bad economies and high unemployment. She said that the economic growth did not come at the cost of society: '".....And did we have to pay some very high price for pursuing this policy option ? Did we have to dismantle the welfare state ? Did we have to abandon the concept of social inclusion ? The answer is no: we didn't".'

In June 2005, the family of Eddie Fullerton, a County Donegal Sinn Féin councillor, travelled to Dublin to raise support for an inquiry into his death. All of the Dáil parties agreed to meet with them, except for the Progressive Democrats.

Progressive Democrats TDs


The PDs face a number of challenges in future elections:

  • Their support base is not as broad as the other parties. Their middle-class professional core vote tends to shift support between the PDs and Fine Gael. Given Fine Gael's strong performance in the European Parliament elections of 2004, they may pose a significant challenge to the PDs in the next general election.
  • Unlike other parties they do not have many stable seats. At most four PD seats are guaranteed — Mary Harney, Liz O'Donnell and seats in Galway West and Limerick East which they have always held.
  • Due to their lengthy partnership with Fianna Fáil (the current coalition has been in office since 1997) the electorate has come to associate them with Fianna Fáil, and they may suffer from any scandals or drop in the other party's support.
  • Liz O'Donnell has questioned Justice Minister Michael McDowell frequent attacks on Sinn Féin, stating she believed them "unhelpful". However O'Donnell's influence is perceived to be on the wane, and McDowell's barrage seems set to continue.

However their demise has been predicted many times before and it is expected that the 2007 Dáil Éireann election will put the matter to rest once and for all. It is likely that their performance in that election will depend on Mary Harney's performance as Minister for Health.

See also

Template:Political parties in Ireland

External link


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